Julian: Mighty Mastiff
In the spring of 1896, Clarence J. Berry and his party made camp at the bottom of the fearsomely steep route to the Chilkoot Pass. Then he and his dog team, led by a two-hundred-pound yellow mastiff named Julian, ferried load after load to the top. The Chilkoot Trail, which took miners from near Skagway, Alaska, into the Yukon, was less a trail than an ordeal. Starting along the beach at Dyea, Alaska, and then following the Dyea River, the route climbed over the treacherous pass and then continued on to Canada’s Lake Bennett.
After the grueling uphill travel, the flat terrain of Lake Bennett looked easy. But instead the rough ice and strong winds presented even more challenges for the sled dogs. At this point, the other dogs in Berry’s team were nearly worn out. So Julian pulled the entire sled load of more than a thousand pounds across the frozen lake by himself. With remarkable feats like this, Julian eventually became the best-known dog in the goldfields of Alaska and the Yukon.
Clarence J. Berry – better known as “CJ” – returned from his first trip to the Yukon in 1895 and came back realizing the value of dogs for transporting people and goods. He returned to California to marry his twenty-three-year-old fiancee Ethel Bush – and to train a team of dogs for work in the North. CJ bought Julian in Santa Cruz, California, for $110. Then he spent the winter in Fresno, training his team to pull a homemade sled on wheels – a sight that must have struck the locals as odd.
And Julian became more famous still. He broke the record for carrying the heaviest loads of any dog in the Klondike. A massive animal, he was coveted by many other prospectors and CJ was offered fabulous sums for the dog. But to him, Julian was a companion on the trail, a member of the family. CJ called him “old boy,” and fussed over him, carefully changing the leather socks that protected his feet from the icy trails. He would not part with his faithful servant, and turned down all offers.
By the summer of 1897, the newlywed Berrys, who were $5000 in debt when they left California, had $130,000 of gold dust and nuggets stored in a little shed. If anyone came near, Julian would warn the Berrys with barks and growls. One secret of their wealth was that CJ never stayed long enough in Dawson to get distracted at the saloons and gambling tables. Ethel was waiting back at the mine, and there was always work to do.
…In 1898 the Berrys…sent him to Fresno for medical treatment – retirement. When the climate in Fresno became too hot for him, he was sent to the Pacific coast, where – as the Fresno paper reported – “he will have an opportunity to try the Santa Cruz beach for his health.
The Berrys spared no expense for Julian’s welfare, but he never completely regained his health. He died in May 1900. “Most Famous Dog in Alaska is Dead,” said the headline for Julian’s obituary in the San Francisco Call, as the Berry family mourned the loss of their beloved dog.